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It has not been generally recognized in the West that the famous Buddhist temples of the central provinces of Japan, especially of Kyoto, have been for centuries, and still are the custodians of ancient masterpieces of Oriental art, as important for their respective histories of culture as are the better known aesthetic treasures of European, and especially of Italian cathedrals. Since I first began to listen to these unique voices of the past, it is now fully twenty years; and again and again have I returned to the classic and pine-shaded shrines of Miyako with the same reverence and soul-hunger which Santa Croce, the Frari, and San Francesco of Assisi ever inspire. It is not in favourite curio-shops of the ports, nor even in the private collections of the nobles, that the full depth of Chinese and Japanese art can be sounded. As in Europe, the devotion that could rise to supreme beauty was lavished upon holy alter-pieces, the tombs of the saints, and sacred memorial offerings. Here lie embalmed forever the spirits not only of generations of artists, but of extinct schools, and of millenia of national epochs. The world is now to be congratulated that at last, with the illustrations of the present work, it will possess the materials for this fascinating study that have heretofore been monopolized by a few favoured travellers.

Of the thousands of temples whose graves hallow these inland valleys, it was fitting that the great patriarchal scats of the Zen Sect should become the leaders of this new movement. It was by this sect preeminently that the spiritual value of art and of the contemplation of Nature was ages ago recognized as an essential part of its discipline. The churches remained no mere custodians of alien productions. The greatest artists of their academy, who founded art-schools within their very precincts, were often their most noted prelates. To the consciousness of Zen, the beauties of Nature, even rock, trees, flowers, waterfalls, and clouds,--each in its specific perfection,--were but mirrors in which man should learn to see the miracles of his own soul reflected. In my writings on Japanese art I have always spoken of these great Zen strongholds of Kyoto as the "Quadrilateral of the Ashikaga Schools." That they should ask me now after long years of loving study to associate myself with this educational labour of theirs is a cause of deep personal gratification.

These national treasures of art which faith has fortunately preserved to our own day must have for all educated students a twofold interest, of subject and of beauty. Heretofore it is chiefly the iconography of Southern Buddhism that Western scholarship has dealt with. The richer and more imaginative world of the Northern branch has been little explored by those whose earnest faith might render them true interpreters. The problem is not only how its forms, ritual and aesthetic, came to be derived from some ancient Indian type, but what principles of spiritual life they have stood for in their own day, and with their own race. How narrowly we should limit the meaning of Christianity did our critics presume to exclude from it every word, or spiritual and artistic type which they cannot prove to have existed in the days of the Apostles! It is the duty and the proof of a great religion that it shall be rich enough to grow, out of its own soil, food for the most various types of souls and cultures. Local forms are limited, but the nature of man is infinite; and the seed, though it contain the germ of all, does not look, in its small white roundness, like the gigantic tree-trunk, or the canopy of a million blossoms whose fragrance it has nourished. This mass of material was drawn from the substance of earth and air; and surely the Buddha, as well as the Christ, could foresee that the spirit of his Law should likewise draw to itself the sympathetic substance of a hundred unborn races. The flower is not in the root, but where it grows, on the twig; and so the glorious meaning of these sacred Chinese and Japanese types is to be discovered rather in the hearts of these living peoples than in the musty manuscripts of alien and tropical cultures. The soil of Christianity was Hebrew, but it is not Hebrew to-day; the soil of Buddhism was Hindoo, but it is not Hindoo to-day. The Western scholar who misses the significance of these facts misses the core of the religion he professes to study; and the promoters of this book are to be congratulated upon obtaining the services of such a learned and sympathetic interpreter as Professor Takakusu of the Imperial University of Tokyo.

On the side of aesthetic beauty, it is not contemplated in the scope of this work to draw the fulness of the historical lessons which its list of illustrations might afford. This would require that the English text be swollen to thousands of pages. The true history of the art of these warm-hearted and sensitive Oriental peoples has yet to be written, a history that shall reveal each minutest from among its beauties as the necessary expression by some gifted soul of his race's aspiration. The standards of art are not external; as if any merely clever hand, ore eye, or camera could catch them. Neither are they scientific; as if shadows, ore perspectives, or solar spectra, ore consonant vibrations could get the bottom of the abyss between the fine and the common-place. Nor are they abstract and subjective; as if the magnificence of Ririomin's line were but a "calligraphic" whim, or the subtleties of Bellini's colour but the exuberance of a passing mood. But they are spiritual, that is, constructive from within; even as thought is constructive, as love is constructive, as faith is constructive, as character is constructive. Colours and lines cling together and mass themselves by infinite and solid affinities, the law of a World of Order that transcends mere physical resistance; affinities and laws which reveal their sympathy for all that man has to express of subject, by melting into, and incorporation themselves with those subjects, in the exalted imagination of the artist. The true artist has the function of a kind of priest, who interprets to the world transcendent truths that its ordinary vision is not clear enough to see; and thus the strangest novelty of all great art is marvellously united with its intense expression of naturalness, because the soul of the beholder feels that, for the first time, he is at home with himself. We exclaim in genuine surprise;--"Why did no one ever attempt this before?" "Why did I not create it myself?" It is the test of the greatest and rarest poetry, as of the lofting painting, that it seems the inevitable outcry of our own hearts. If it be possible, in the brief notes that are allotted to each of our illustrations, to catch something of this unique inner perfume from its visible soul, to this it will be as much as those who arc responsible for the aesthetic portion of the interpretation can hope to aspire.

Ernest F. Fenollosa,

Tokio, Japan, March 16th, 1899.


  • 田島志一編 『真美大観 第一冊』 日本仏教真美協会、1899年。